In-Depth: Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress to codify the Bush administration’s proposed reporting requirements as part of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA). In a March 2019 op-ed in The Hill, Rep. Rooney wrote:
“The Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA)... creates accountability by requiring unions to file financial disclosure reports with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), allowing workers to see how their union dues are spent, but the current application of the law is clearly insufficient to prevent fraud and abuse by union leaders… [T]he Department of Labor (DOL) under President George W. Bush proposed rules to increase transparency by requiring more detailed reporting. The rules would have required unions to disclose the name of any party buying or selling union assets of $5,000 or more, required more union officials to declare whether they receive any income or economic benefit from an entity that does business with the union or employs union members, and required union trusts—organizations such as strike funds and apprenticeship programs set up to benefit workers—to file their own separate financial disclosures… [T]he Obama administration… retracted all of these proposed rules, limiting the public detail available to workers regarding how their own union dues are spent. The Trump administration DOL plans to promulgate rules to increase union financial transparency, but workers’ ability to see how their own hard-earned dollars are spent shouldn’t be dependent on which party occupies the White House. That is why I am reintroducing the Union Transparency and Accountability Act, a bill which would codify the Bush administration’s proposed reporting requirements as part of the LMRDA. As long as workers are forced to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment and forced to accept workplace representation from that union, they should be able to see in detail how the union’s leadership spends their hard-earned dollars… Strengthening the LMRDA through more detailed reporting requirements would make unions more effective and accountable, and better empower the American worker—something every member of Congress regardless of party desires to accomplish.”
When he introduced this bill in the 115th Congress, he said:
“Transparency within unions is critical to root out corruption and hold union bosses accountable. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration repealed rules that increased financial transparency within unions to protect workers from misuse of their dues. I am introducing the Union Transparency and Accountability Act to reinstate rules which will require unions and their leaders to submit detailed financial disclosures to prevent fraud and embezzlement… The Union Transparency and Accountability Act would assist in achieving the goal of protecting union members and empowering them to hold their local unions accountable.”
In a separate statement in 2018, Rep. Rooney explained the need for this bill:
“Currently, union employees who uncover and report misconduct are vulnerable to retaliation by unions. This must be changed to protect these brave whistle blowers from corrupt union bosses who threaten them or unfairly fire them. Corruption in unions is rampant; for example, high-ranking officers at the United Auto Workers (UAW) have been caught taking bribes. Without whistle blower protections, rank-and-file union employees are afraid to report these actions for fears of losing their jobs. The Union Integrity Act will right this wrong and protect union whistle blowers from being fired for reporting illegal behaviors, the same protections government and private business employees enjoy. This will encourage workers to report corruption and stop union abuse of employees.”
In a February 2015 article in Advances in Industrial and Labor Relations, John Logan compared the Bush and Obama administrations’ differing stances in regard to the Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS). He argued that the Bush era labor union law reforms — including the proposed LMRDA rules changes — ”did little or nothing to achieve greater [union] accountability and may instead have been motivated largely by a desire to impose a more onerous administrative burden on reporting unions.”
James Sherk, a Senior Policy Analyst in Labor Economics in the Center for Data Analysis at The Heritage Foundation, writes in support of whistleblower protections for labor union employees:
“Union employees need whistleblower protections as much as employees of other organizations… Union officers are only human. The Office of Labor-Management Standards convicts about 100 union officials a year for embezzling or misappropriating funds. The people most likely to witness such abuses are union employees. The law puts them in an impossible situation: If they keep silent, they can be sued for breach of their fiduciary duty. But if they speak up, they can be fired… Union employees should be free to speak up about corruption or violations of their unions’ fiduciary duties. A union employee should not have to choose between paying his mortgage and following his conscience. This is a bipartisan principle. As George Miller (D–CA), ranking Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, stated when arguing for other whistleblower reforms, ‘It’s deeply troubling that workers who risk everything to blow the whistle on fraud and other serious matters remain exposed to employer retaliation and other harms.’ Unions should not be permitted to retaliate against employees who expose corruption. Congress should create whistleblower protections for union employees under the Labor–Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. This would protect honest union officers and encourage them to reveal corruption—helping to root out corruption in the union movement. A union employee who witnesses misconduct should not have to choose between his conscience and his job.”
The Trump administration supports this legislation. In response to the administration’s support, Rep. Rooney says, “Transparency within unions is critical to protect workers and root out corruption by holding union bosses accountable. I am encouraged by the administration’s commitment making transparency a priority and holding unions leaders accountable. This rule seeks to prevent fraud and embezzlement by union bosses, one of my key priorities.”
This legislation has one cosponsor, Rep. David Poe (R-TN), in the 116th Congress. Last Congress, it had two Republican cosponsors and didn’t receive a committee vote.
Of Note: The LMRDA, also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act, was passed in 1959 after more than two years of Senate investigations into widespread corruption in the organized labor movement, particularly in major unions such as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, United Mine Workers, and International Longshoremen Workers Union. At the time, the hope was that new financial disclosure requirements imposed by the LMRDA would empower rank-and-file union members and make unions more accountable to their membership and, therefore, less corrupt overall.
The LMRDA also imposed a requirement on disclosing union-busting activity through “union avoidance” consultants. Under the LMRDA, when an employer hires a consultant to “directly or indirectly” persuade employees not to exercise their right to unionize, both the employer and the consultant have to disclose that an agreement exists, and how much is being paid for it.
There are numerous laws in the U.S. protecting whistleblowers in general, including the Americans With Disabilities Act, Superfund Law, and Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Federal employees are covered by a separate Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, which was intended to fight union protection, seems to provide whistleblower protections in union cases. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Finnegan v. Leu (1982) that whistleblower protection law only applies to rank-and-file union members, and not to employees of the union itself, except in cases involving expropriation of pension funds.
As a result, union employees are not shielded from retaliation from their unions. Existing whistleblower provisions prohibit retaliation against an employee for reporting violations of the law that the employer is included in (i.e.g, dumping toxic waste or using child labor), but don’t protect employees from being fired for exposing corruption or other misconduct. Thus, union presidents can legally fire employees for exposing corruption, and senior union officials can be fired by union presidents for virtually any reason, including reporting misconduct. Nothing in the law shields union officials from retaliation for whistleblowing, even though they’re the people most likely to uncover corruption.
This has had serious consequences for some union employees, such as Rian Wathen, Peggy Collins, and Herman Jackson — former officers of the United Food Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 700 in Indianapolis who alleged that their union president was using union funds for his own benefit. When they went to their Local’s executive board with their allegations, they were fired by the president the next day. The UFCW International later denied their attempts to appeal their terminations.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / jcphoto)